Toyota RAV4 — Benefiting from a mid-cycle refresh

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

The Toyota RAV4 compact crossover has been endowed with a mid-cycle refresh including styling updates that feature a sleeker looking front end; a new SE trim level that boasts sporty styling touches and a tuned suspension; and the addition of the Toyota Safety Sense system that includes forward collision warning, forward collision mitigation, and lane-departure warning and intervention. The frosting on the 2016 cake is a new hybrid model that offers stellar gas mileage measured at 34 mpg city, 31 highway and 33 combined.

Even with the styling tweaks and upgrades — including the new hybrid model — we would never have predicted the sales resurgence experienced by the 2016 RAV4 over the first half of this year. Sales were up by more than 15 percent to 165,900 through June vaulting it into first place in the torrid crossover wars against the perennial leaders Honda CR-V and Ford Escape. We would have expected that kind of uptick only with an all-new  model.

Toyota has obviously made the right decisions with its styling and content upgrades in the fourth model year of the vehicle's fourth generation.

The RAV4 is a solid all-around sport utility with excellent dependability and resale value, but it doesn't stand out in any one area against the competition. People obviously like its overall competence, as well its styling, which includes a higher hood line, new headlight treatment, and simulated skid plates front and rear.

In recent years Toyota has gone to a one-engine strategy for the RAV4 and after a couple of weeks behind the wheel we found the 2.5-liter 4-cylinder a solid choice with decent performance.

The engine makes 176 horsepower and 172 pound-feet of torque mated to a six-speed automatic. It exhibits enough performance to get the job done measured from 0-to-60 in about 8.5 seconds with a quarter-mile time of 16.5 seconds at 85 mph. It can be purchased in either front-wheel or all-wheel drive with gas mileage measured at 23 city, 30 highway and 26 overall in front-wheel drive and 22/29/25 in all-wheel on regular gas.

The RAV4 is no cornering juggernaut even with the sport suspension on the new SE trim, but it remains composed as long as you don't become too aggressive on the twists and turns. This is a family crossover, after all, and it does offer what families want — a comfortable and well mannered ride while cruising at highway speeds.

Inside, the RAV4 offers a stylish, modern looking dash with intuitive switchgear, quality materials for the segment, good fit and finish, and the requisite number of cupholders including one up front that will accommodate a container with a big handle.

Front seats are comfortable and back seat space is adequate, but a low seat cushion and a stiff seatback proved somewhat unsettling. On the plus side, the rear seatbacks recline for long-distance comfort. Cargo space with the seats in use measures 38.4 cubic feet. With the second-row seats folded, cargo space is a very useable 73.3 cubic feet.

The RAV4 is available in four trim levels — LE, XLE, SE and Limited. And for 2016 there is the aforementioned hybrid edition to consider. Prices start at $25,250 for the LE front-wheel drive trim. Standard equipment includes 17-inch steel wheels, air conditioning, a rearview camera, cruise control, tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, a 6.1-inch touchscreen, Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity, and six-speaker sound system with CD player.

The Entune Premium Audio package that includes navigation, smartphone app integration, the Toyota Safety Sense system including adaptive cruise control and a blindspot monitor can be purchased as an option on the XLE and SE trims for $2,370. We think if you purchased only one option this should be the one. The system is standard on the Limited trim, which starts at $32,410, although it can be upgraded with a premium JBL audio system.

If you are interested in the RAV4 Hybrid, it is powered by a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine and electric motors front and rear making a combined 194 horsepower with a combined city/highway mpg rating of 33. It starts at $29,270 including destination charge in XLE trim. We drove a hybrid for a short distance at a Toyota event and found that it has more than adequate performance while displaying a pleasing personality. The question for shoppers — can the hybrid return enough savings at the gas pump to make its extra price worthwhile?

As a bonus, all RAV4s come with ToyotaCare; a complimentary maintenance plan that covers all normal factory scheduled service, as well as 24/7 roadside assistance, for two years or 25,000 miles, whichever comes first.

Base price: $25,250; as driven, $29,540
Engine: 2.5-liter 4-cylinder
Horsepower: 176 @ 6,000 rpm
Torque: 172 foot-pounds @ 4,100 rpm
Transmission: 6-sped automatic
Drive: all-wheel
Seating: 2/3
Wheelbase: 104.7 inches
Length: 181.1 inches
Curb weight: 3,605 pounds
Turning circle: 36.8 feet
Luggage capacity: 38.4 cubic feet
Cargo capacity: 73.4 cubic feet
Towing capacity: 1,500 pounds
Fuel capacity: 15.9 gallons (regular)
EPA rating: 22 city, 29 highway, 25 combined
0-60: 8.5 seconds (Car and Driver)
Also consider: Honda CR-V, Ford Escape, Chevrolet Equinox

The Good
• Stylish cabin
• Roomy interior
• Excellent resale value

The Bad
• Below average gas mileage

The Ugly
• Only one engine option